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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 226

A Brighter Sun is a coming-of-age novel by Caribbean writer Sam Selvon, first published in 1952. It describes the marriage and early adulthood of Tiger, who lives in Trinidad, which sees a unique blend of Creole, Indian, and English cultures. At age 16, Tiger marries Urmilla. Upon their marriage, he...

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A Brighter Sun is a coming-of-age novel by Caribbean writer Sam Selvon, first published in 1952. It describes the marriage and early adulthood of Tiger, who lives in Trinidad, which sees a unique blend of Creole, Indian, and English cultures. At age 16, Tiger marries Urmilla. Upon their marriage, he gets a mud hut in Baratria, where he first works as a farmer. Then, the American military arrives to build a highway through the farms on which Tiger has worked. Rather than protest, Tiger agrees to become a construction worker on the project. He makes an effort to learn English and communicate well in order to advance his social status. He and his wife Urmilla (and eventually their daughter) belong to the lower class, and he envies his neighbors, Joe and Rita, whose brick house has electricity and running water.

One day, Tiger invites his American bosses over for dinner, but gets drunk and later beats his pregnant wife. His wife becomes ill, and Tiger tries to find a doctor for her. An Indian and Creole doctor both refuse to treat her, but an English doctor agrees. This represents a turning point for Tiger's cultural understanding. Tiger's son by Urmilla is delivered a still-born; however, the now mature Tiger is undaunted by his circumstances, and begins the construction of a new house, aided by his friends and neighbors.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 858

The story of Tiger’s development from an illiterate peasant boy on a rural sugar estate to a young man with a heightened sense of himself and his society begins with his arranged Hindu wedding to Urmilla, another sixteen-year-old, whom he has never seen before the ceremony. Tiger accepts his wedding and his new wife as part of the pattern of life imposed on him by forces and authorities upon which he has never reflected, let alone understood. His community’s expectations are summed up for Tiger by an elder who tells him, “You gettam house which side Barataria, gettam land, cowwell, you go live dat side. Haveam plenty boy chile—girl chile no good, only bring trouble on yuh head. You live dat side, plantam garden, live good.” Barataria, the village where Tiger moves to establish his own home, however, is undergoing the transition from rural settlement to suburban town; this new setting combines with his own curiosity and inchoate ambition to foster his search for manhood and a personal identity not bound by the old ways.

Tiger’s neighbors in Barataria are Joe and Rita Martin, a creole (black) couple who have managed to escape a slum in the city of Port of Spain. In contrast to Tiger and Urmilla, who live in a mud hut with a thatched roof, the Martins are models of modernity, living in a concrete brick house with electricity and running water. Despite the traditional animosities and suspicions common in the racially diverse Trinidadian society, the two couples, representing the two major groups (black and East Indian), become fast friends. Rita serves as midwife not only at the birth of Tiger and Urmilla’s first child (a girl) but also, in a sense, in the development of the young Indians’ racial tolerance and their gradual “creolization.”

A Brighter Sun is suffused with humor and filled with details of Trinidadian life; the novel is loosely constructed and episodic with the central action relating to Tiger and his quest. He wishes to be seen as a man but must first discover the essence of manhood for himself. He begins to realize the necessity and power of knowledge and has the old Indian, Sookdeo, teach him to read so that “his mind would become big.” Tiger admires and envies the freedom of Boysie, a young Indian who also works on the land but spends much time enjoying the cosmopolitan life in Port of Spain. Boysie rejects the “slow Indian ways of life” and delights in flaunting his creole girlfriend; he believes that “all this business about colour and nationality [is] balls.” With Boysie’s help, Tiger begins to explore life in the city but learns that gaining experience can be painful when he is snubbed by a creole store clerk in favor of a rich white woman.

As Tiger becomes more reflective about every element of his life, his love for his natural surroundings becomes more profound, but he dreams of more for himself than the life of a peasant can provide. He is confident that something big is going to happen that will alter the course of his life, and it does when the American military forces arrive to build a modern highway through the garden plots of the Barataria farmers. Tiger willingly abandons planting and signs on as a construction worker. Because he wants to understand what is happening to him, he has taken to writing down an account of events; he also reads a book about roads. He uses a dictionary to expand his vocabulary, often with comic results.

Tiger does well with his American employers and, to increase his chances for promotion, invites two of them to have dinner at his house. With Rita’s encouragement and help, Urmilla puts on makeup and fixes the hut for the occasion; she prepares a meal which impresses her guests who are well-intentioned but naive in forcing her to violate further traditional practices. Tiger drinks too much rum, and after the Americans leave, he viciously beats his pregnant wife. The tension and clash of cultural values is too much for Tiger, and he loses the control he had been nurturing. His barely remembered actions bring about feelings of dislocation and a period of confusion and personal setback. He partially redeems himself by stubbornly seeking a doctor for his sick wife. The incident in which he is refused by first an Indian and then a creole doctor before being aided by an English doctor is central to the novel for the deeper understanding of his society it forces on Tiger.

Urmilla’s wished-for boy-child is born dead, and Tiger knows that he is to blame. In an act of penance and affirmation, he begins, alone, to build a new house on the site of the old hut. His solitary labor ends when he is reconciled with Rita and Joe, and other members of the community unite to work on his house. The novel ends with Tiger still in his early twenties but mindful of his responsibilities and mature for his years; he is uncertain about his future but is better equipped to face it.

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